Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, January 31, 2011

oh no!

The presence of a menstruating woman will prevent a French housewife from achieving a successful mayonnaise.

The Curse by Delaney, Lupton, and Toth


Jacques Rancière

Rancière is hot right now.
          —David Sigler, professor of British literature

Sunday, January 30, 2011

poetic landscape

from "The Flesh of Words"
Jacques Rancière
born 1940

The modern lyric revolution is not a way of experiencing oneself, of experiencing the profundity of one's inner life, or, conversely, of immersing it in the profundity of nature. It is primarily a specific method of utterance, a way of accompanying one's saying, of deploying it in a perceptual space, of giving it rhythm in a walk, a journey, a crossing. Wind, clouds, the path or the wave, which hold a well-known place in Romantic poetry, are not first of all the drunken experience of wild nature; they are first operators of accompaniment—methods that allow the "I" to slip its way throughout the poem until it makes itself the space of the appearance of daffodils* "in person."

...The subjectivity proper to the lyric poem involves the displacement of a body onto a landscape, in a coincidence of vision and word, which constitutes this territory as the space of writing.

*Esme's note: The daffodils referred to here are those in Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wordsworth Done Right

I wandered lonely as a clud!

Not only is this funny, but it makes me think rappers could learn a thing or two about rhythm and rhyme from the old poets.

(Am I the only one who says clud?)

Blake's Fairy

from "Europe: A Prophecy"
William Blake

Five windows light the cavern'd Man; thro' one he breathes the air;
Thro' one, hears music of the spheres; thro' one, the eternal vine
Flourishes, that he may recieve the grapes; thro' one can look.
And see small portions of the eternal world that ever groweth;
Thro' one, himself pass out what time he please, but he will not;
For stolen joys are sweet, & bread eaten in secret pleasant.

So sang a Fairy mocking as he sat on a streak'd Tulip,
Thinking none saw him: when he ceas'd I started from the trees!
And caught him in my hat as boys knock down a butterfly.
How know you this said I small Sir? where did you learn this song?
Seeing himself in my possession thus he answered me:
My master, I am yours. command me, for I must obey.

Then tell me, what is the material world, and is it dead?
He laughing answer'd: I will write a book on leaves of flowers,
If you will feed me on love-thoughts, & give me now and then
A cup of sparkling poetic fancies; so when I am tipsie,
I'll sing to you to this soft lute; and shew you all alive
The world, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.

I took him home in my warm bosom: as we went along
Wild flowers I gatherd; & he shew'd me each eternal flower:
He laugh'd aloud to see them whimper because they were pluck'd.
They hover'd round me like a cloud of incense: when I came
Into my parlour and sat down, and took my pen to write:
My Fairy sat upon the table, and dictated EUROPE.

Esme's note: If I caught a fairy, the first thing I would ask would definitely be "what is the material world, and is it dead?"

Friday, January 28, 2011

Letters Written in France—Review

Letters Written in France,
in the Summer 1790, to a Friend in England;
Containing Various Anecdotes Relative to the French Revolution;
and Memoirs of Mons. and Madame du F—

Now, that's a title.

It's 1790. You live in England. You've heard rumors of revolution and violence over in France, but you don't really know what's going on. Any information you do know has come from Edmund Burke, statesman and author. Then Helen Maria Williams enters the scene. She's in France for the festival celebrating one year since the Bastille fell. She's in France as the revolution is happening, sending letters to England which are being published for all to read, an early form of journalism.

Helen Maria Williams, 1792

I arrived at Paris, by a very rapid journey, the day before the federation; and when I am disposed to murmur at the evils of my destiny, I shall henceforth put this piece of good fortune into the opposite scale, and reflect how many disappointments it ought to counterbalance. Had the packet which conveyed me from Brighton to Dieppe failed a few hours later; had the wind been contrary; in short, had I not reached Paris at the moment I did reach it, I should have missed the most sublime spectacle which, perhaps, was ever represented on the theatre of this earth.

If you're like me, you've heard enough about the French Revolution to make you curious. For instance, you've read Les Miserables and Winterson's The Passion, or even Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, or maybe you've played the game Guillotine--and so the French Revolution seems like a thing you should know about, but you're pretty hazy on the details.

Helen Maria Williams' Letters from France is an engaging first-hand account that will give you details without sounding like a history textbook. Actually, it reads like a gothic novel. Some of my cohorts were saying that Williams is like Ann Radcliffe only she doesn't go on for ten volumes.

The first half of the Letters takes place in Paris and is a pleasurable telling of the Festival of Federation and other goings-on of Parisians and the National Assembly. Williams is wonderful at including anecdotes and witty repartee spoken by the Frenchmen around her. She also includes women's role in war and revolution. "Let me do justice to the ladies of France..."

The second half of the Letters takes place in Rouen, and is largely an account the family du Fossé. Forbidden love, imprisonment, near-starvation—all that good stuff happens to the family du Fossé. Only it's not a gothic novel. Monsieur and Madame du Fossé actually existed and lived through this stuff.

If you're interested in the French Revolution (not that the only reason toread the Letters is if you're interested in the French Revolution) you should also watch John Green's vlogs about it. John Green is amusing as ever, and this time is amusing while taking up the slack left by our history teachers.

Fun fact about Helen Maria Williams: She was a member of the cult of feminine sensibility. Man, that sounds like a cult I could get behind.


One of my poems is featured in the Sue Boynton Poetry Blog today. You know, the one about Indian Plums.

as do trees

from "Wintergreen Ridge"
Lorine Niedecker

Sometimes it's a pleasure
     to grieve
          or dump

the leaves most brilliant
     as do trees
          when they've no need

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

I feel that by now, everyone except me has seen the movie version of Chocolat. But maybe you haven't read the book. Maybe you're even less in touch with popular culture than I am and have never heard of Chocolat. So I shall post.

I didn't get into this book immediately. Something about the tone threw me off. It was a little too bold; it took itself a little too seriously; the periods somehow fell too heavily. By the sixth chapter I figured out part of what the problem was--a lack of contractions. "I have heard" instead of "I've heard." A lack of contractions will usually make you sound one of three things: clunky, overly formal, or pretentious. Not even academic papers use contractions anymore.

It wasn't just contractions though, there was just something affected about the tone. And the author switched between past and present tense unnecessarily.

But all that aside, I really enjoyed this book. No, really. I just like to complain. I just like to warn people about inappropriate contraction use. The bane of the English major.

Anyway. Chocolat. Vianne Rocher and her daughter abandon their nomadic life and attempt to settle down. They choose a little town in France in which to forge a new life. And their new life involves chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. They open a chocolate shop, to be exact. But this little French town isn't sure about having a chocolate shop. Lent just started. Eating chocolate during Lent is surely a sin. It's decadent. And there's something too carefree, too lively about that Vianne Rocher. She doesn't seem to feel any guilt or worry about being an unwed mother. And, between you and me, I think she's a witch.

It's a charming book. It hosts many delightful characters: six-year-old Anouk and her imaginary friend Pantoufle; the gypsy Roux; 80-year-old Armande, tough as nails and with a predilection for red lingerie.

I like the paganism running through the book. (Paganism, read: Wicca.)* I like the understated feminism. This could easily have been a book where settling down and forging a new life meant Vianne finding the love of her life and getting Anouk a father. But it isn't that kind of book. Vianne and Anouk do not in any way require nor desire a man in their lives. This is a kind of book I admire, a book that appeals to the mainstream while quietly challenging the status quo.

And of course, there's the chocolate. Truffles. Mocha. Nipples of Venus. Marzipan. Amandine. Sugar mice. Candied fruit. I fully allowed myself to indulge in all sorts of chocolate while reading this book. Spicy hot chocolate. Cake for breakfast. I've even got Christmas candy left.

This is a chocolatey feel-good book. I recommend it.

*When I said the word pagan to someone a few weeks ago, he was thoroughly confused. Wicca just made him more confused. If you don't know what either paganism or Wicca is, Wikipedia it.


Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, from "Defence of Poetry"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Keats Letter Goes Up For Auction

Do you feel the need to spend copious amounts on poetic artifacts? That's what I thought! Read on!

John Keats was engaged to one Fanny Brawne for three years. The engagement was terminated when he died in 1821. A good reason to be jilted, I suppose.

Fanny Brawne, 1833

Keats wrote letters to Brawne while he was dying of tuberculosis. And a certain one of these letters he kissed--since he could not kiss dear Fanny without infecting her. And you can now own that letter, which the lips of Keats have touched!

This letter is being auctioned by the collector and poet Roy Davids. It has an estimated value of £120,000.

Davids said, "To own a manuscript by Keats is really the closest you can get to him both physically and mentally. In some degree it is an act of worship."

Here's the letter, written in 1820:

My dearest Fanny

The power of your benediction is not of so weak a nature as to pass from the ring in four and twenty hours - it is like a sacred Chalice once consecrated and ever consecrate. I shall Kiss your name and mine where your Lips have been - Lips! why should such a poor prisoner as I am talk about such things. Thank God, though I hold them the dearest pleasures in the universe, I have a consolation independent of them in the certainty of your affectation. I could write a song in the style of Tom Moores Pathetic about Memory if that would be any relief to me. No. It would not be. I will be as obstinate as a Robin, I will not sing in a cage. Health is my expected heaven and you are the Houri - this word I believe is both singular and plural - if only plural never mind - you are a thousand of them.

Ever yours affectionately my dearest, j.k


from "Thomas Jefferson"
Lorine Niedecker


To daughter Patsy: Read--
read Livy

No person full of work
was ever hysterical

Know music, history

(I calculate 14 to 1
in marriage
she will draw
a blockhead)

Science also

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, from "A Defence of Poetry"

Monday, January 24, 2011


Lorine Niedecker


The chemist creates
     the brazen
     Thy will be done


Time to garden
     before I
to meet
     my compost maker
     the caretaker
of the cemetery

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Magic is not just something you do, or make. It is something the universe does with you. It is our relationship to the divine. There is nothing more magical than the presence of the sacred in one’s life. It changes everything. It is extraordinary, it is gorgeous, and it defies the limitations within which we lead our daily lives. Magic is the art of living a creative life that is graced with divine presence. It isn’t something one does to the universe; it’s what a living universe does with us once we have awakened to its divinity. It is the sacred dance we share... I thought about the last several years and my longing for love. Most people know intuitively that when you fall in love, the world is full of magic. What they don’t know is that when you discover the universe is full of magic, you fall in love with the world.

-Phyllis Curott, from Book of Shadows

Friday, January 21, 2011

author photos

Kim Barnes (author and also my professor) was not allowed to smile for her author photo. Her publisher rejected 700 possible photos.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


My body was not just some biological machine designed to carry my consciousness around. I was beginning to understand that, contrary to a culture which called the body sinful, it had intrinsic value, intelligence, and spiritual wisdom to offer me, if I would honor it. It was time for me to inhabit my body.

-Phyllis Curott, from Book of Shadows

flesh and blood

I have wished to keep my Reader in the company of flesh and blood.

-William Wordsworth, from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


God was separated from man, man was separated from woman, and all were separated from the earth.

-Phyllis Curott, from Book of Shadows

Harry Potter Comes to Moscow

It's a multi-media post! Hurrah!

Music by:
Draco and the Malfoys
Harry and the Potters

the reader's judgment

I have one request to make of my Reader, which is, that in judging these Poems he would decide by how own feelings genuinely, and not by reflection upon what will probably be the judgment of others. How common is it to hear a person say, 'I myself do not object to this style of composition, or this or that expression, but to such and such classes of people it will appear mean or ludicrous.' This mode of criticism, so destructive of all sound unadulterated judgment, is almost universal: I have therefore to request, that the Reader would abide independently by his own feelings, and that if he finds himself affected he would not suffer such conjectures to interfere with his pleasure.

-William Wordsworth, from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"

Monday, January 17, 2011


In book after book I found evidence: Throughout the world, most of humanity once worhsipped a goddess. In every area of the Near and Middle East, the divine feminine was revered, and it was from the womb of these early Goddess-worshiping settlements of the Fertile Crescent that Western Civilization was born...

The Goddess’s sacred culture began to disappear from the face of Western culture. A male God assumed the throne of heaven, as kings seized thrones of the earthly realm and religion became the sole dominion of men. Only they could become clergy, only they could interpret the divine, which was now entirely masculine: God the Father, and his Son, and the Holy Spirit. A masculine trinity now replaced the ancient Threefold Goddess of Mother, Maiden, and Crone.

-Phyllis Curott, from Book of Shadows


My copy of John Green's novella Zombicorns has arrived! Oh yes, it is "a steaming mess of prose."

(Hey guys, let me know if I am inundating you with posts and should hold off a bit.)


the grand elementary principle of pleasure

-William Wordsworth, from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Words and wonder turned dust into clay, clay into figurines, figurines into goddesses, and goddesses into women.

-Phyllis Curott, from Book of Shadows


For isn't there
something lonely about a life
that wasn't in the least foreseen?
I live in someone else's city, in
someone else's house, it seems.
It's as if one day, I stumbled into a
giant jumble sale of dreams, and
left with my arms loaded, caring
only that I got some good bargains.

-Todd Boss, from "To Be Alone Again in the Thick Skin"

the author's judgement

Faulty expressions, were I convinced they were faulty at present, and that they must necessarily continue to be so, I would willingly take all reasonable pains to correct. But it is dangerous to make these alterations on the simple authority of a few individuals, or even certain classes of men; for where the understanding of an Author is not convinced, or his feelings altered, this cannot be done without great injury to himself: for his own feelings are his stay and support, and, if he sets them aside in one instance, he may be induced to repeat this act till his mind loses all confidence in itself, and becomes utterly debilitated.

-William Wordsworth, from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"

Saturday, January 15, 2011

primitive fertility cults

As early as 7000 B.C.E., worship of the Goddess was at the heart of Neolithic agricultural communities along the northern course of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the lands now known as Iraq and Syria, and in Anatolia, now known as Turkey...

Long before the people of the Middle East worshiped and battled over a male divinity, the people of Canaan paid reverence to a goddess called Queen of Heaven. The Goddess was the divine creatrix, law giver, mother, warrior, healer, bestower of culture and agriculture... The ancient historians...described the laws of Egypt, which gave preeminence to women as rulers, wives, and citizens. These laws were rooted in the worship of the Great Goddess Au Set, whom the Greeks called Isis. She gave laws to her people just as Yahweh, the Hebrew god, gave laws to Moses for the people of Israel. She also taught the mysteries of agriculture and healing. I recalled with annoyance a professor who, in his tight little bow tie and condescending tone, demeaned this pervasive and exquisite religious history, dismissing the Goddess religions as “primitive fertility cults.”

-Phyllis Curott, from Book of Shadows

classes of ideas

It is Author makes a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of association; that he not only thus apprizes the Reader that certain classes of ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that others will be carefully excluded.

-William Wordsworth, from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"

I am beginning a series of quotes by Wordsworth. I was reading him yesterday and thinking, "Hmmm, this fellow has some interesting things to say." And I chuckled whenever he said something like "A Poet is a man speaking to men."* Then my professor told us that there were some women authors who came up with the ideas in Wordsworth's "Preface," that Wordsworth stole the women's ideas, called said ideas "manly" and anything unmanly as bad writing, and got big and famous while the ladies drifted into obscurity. Big sigh. Not an unusual story.

I've also been wanting to post quotes from the memoir Book of Shadows--a decidedly feminist work--so perhaps I'll switch off between Wordsworth and Book of Shadows.

*That is not an exact quote. I don't feel like looking the quote up.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True

When I went to a reading by Brigid Pasulka, I was captivated by her dry humor, and by her whimsical portrayal of a Polish village pre-WWII.

When I bought her novel A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True, I told her it reminded me of Everything is Illuminated--the way the storyline moves between grandparents living in a village that glows with a golden but imperfect light, that has a fairytale feel, and grandchildren struggling with the aftermath of the war and the weight of their family's sorrows--and she said she was flattered.

When I biked home through that October night, the book strapped to the back of my bike, I was hit by a car and the book went flying across the pavement.

When I read Pasulka's novel in December, I was caught by synchronicities--it was New Year's Eve while I read the part of the book that takes place on New Year's Eve; inside the book things were bleak and gray, outside the book things were white and gray; the main character--a young woman recently moved to Krakow from the village, trying to make a life after communism and capitalism have had their way with Poland--felt the way I've felt off and on since moving to Moscow.

When I read Pasulka's novel, I found phrases like głupia panienka just waiting to roll off my tongue.

When I read the ending, I cried.

Show Me What a Bibliophile Looks Like! (This is What a Bibliophile Looks Like!)

"Do you read a lot?"

"Why yes, yes I do."

"You look like a reader."

Dooo I?

A customer told me I look like a reader and then asked me what I like to read. I wasn't in the book section; I was behind a cash register. In uniform. Did my glasses give me away? Do book lovers wear glasses? Maybe it's the haircut? The boy-cut-grown-out-then-given-an-impromptu-trim-in-the-bathroom style? Perhaps it was the gray sweater peaking out from beneath my uniform. Gray sweaters--very bookish.

He told me he's a librarian. That's how he spotted me. Maybe we just know our own.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

School Books

Strike while the coffee's hot.

That's my motto for today.

Maybe I'll have another cup. Who needs breakfast or lunch when you can have coffee?

I'm going to visit three bookstores today. One of them is my workplace, because one must work. One is the little used bookstore downtown, to get a couple books I need read by next week for class, and one is the campus bookstore where I can get some used books for cheap.

I'm excited to finally purchase some Jane Austen for my personal library. I was going to buy Persuasion at work last night, but the copy they had didn't suit my fancy. If I'm going to own Austen, it had better look damn good. I'm hoping BookPeople downtown will have a nice copy.

I love the BookPeople sign. I love the griffins.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I am not in Scotland.

No, no I am not.

Also, Facebook is a PAIN to get back onto after your account has been hacked. I'm still not back on.

Monday, January 3, 2011

To Read

Oh no. I've made this big winter break to-read list, gotten all these recommendations, and now I have to decide on a book. What do I want to read? What am I in the mood for? What does the weather call for?

Well, crap. It doesn't matter, because as I go down my to-read list, looking them up on the public library database, they're all checked out. The new releases, the old releases, all checked out. Wait, wait...there's one large-print Chocolat here in Moscow. Someone better not check it out before I get my butt down to the library.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

So thanks to the
Blue morning, to the blue spirit
Of winter, to the soothing blue gift
Of powdered snow!

-Ed Hirsch, from "Dawn Walk"